• Advice

5 reasons to read poetry (even if you hate it)

Does poetry matter? Well, no. Food matters. Shelter matters. Also... water. But would we want to live in a world without poetry? Probably not.

Even if you actively loathe poetry (many poets do), a poem-a-day is to the creative mind what an apple-a-day is to the body. Luckily, the world of poetry is vast and even if the sonnets of Shakespeare aren’t your thing, it’s likely that there’s quite a few poems out there that will get your mind going. Plus, this isn’t the classroom – you’re free to express your contempt as colorfully a you like (bonus points if it rhymes).

In celebration of National Poetry Month and National Poem-in-your-pocket day, I give you 5 reasons every freelancer / creative / human being should spend a few minutes with poetry each day:

1. Poetry expands your vocabulary world

A wide and ranging vocabulary does not just a smooth-talker make; having more words at your disposal means having more tools with which to comprehend the world. Expanded and expansive language enhances our everyday lives. Not only does poetry introduce us to new words and concepts, but it also uses language in innovative ways – which deepens our experiences.

A little poetry transforms an ordinary moment, like looking at the moon, into an extraordinary event:

Moon, Amy Sklansky

       for the world.

2. Poetry helps us embrace ambiguity

We often talk about embracing ambiguity, but it’s a prickly bedfellow. Our minds yearn to create meaning within the confines of a chaotic universe, so it follows that classifying in absolutes takes strain off the old cognitive load.

But staying in the uncomfortable realm of uncertainty is exactly what propels us forward in pursuit of meaning. Tolerance for ambiguity is one of the key characteristics of creative types – and poetry can help strengthen that trait. A single poem can juggle multiple meanings – there isn’t one “right” way to read it:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

3. Poetry is hard!

...and that’s what makes it great. Today nearly everything is automated for us. Our search engines find what we’re looking for with minimal direction; content is served up to us in bite-sized tweets and listicles; our smartphones can tell us where we’re going and what’s good there with just a few taps.

While there are many upsides to this brave new world, we miss out on something called the generational effect – that is, the deep knowledge created by struggling to comprehend something new. Our devices have relieved us of the necessity of knowing a lot of stuff, but they also rob us of the moment when acquired knowledge becomes tacit knowledge and we’re able to achieve flow.

Poetry challenges the brain to think in new ways and grapple with the meaning of language and of life itself. In doing the work of teasing meaning from a poem, we reward ourselves with a deeper knowledge of that which the poem expresses:

Understand me.
I’m not like an ordinary world.
I have my madness,
I live in another dimension
and I do not have time for things
that have no soul.

Charles Bukowski

4. Poetry puts you in touch with your deeper emotions

Meter, structure, metaphor, rhythm, rhyme – poetry uses all of these tools to fuse intellect with emotions. A poem is linguistic alchemy that can help us access deeper self-knowledge as well as build empathy with others. Poetry articulates that which seems indefinable.

Perhaps that’s why poetry has long been the language of lovers:

Love is a place, e.e. cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places
yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds.

5. Poetry connects us to one another

Throughout history, poetry has had a place at inauguration ceremonies, funerals, before great battles, and at civil protests. A poem is both a personal and communal experience – and that’s the paradox of human life in a nutshell. Poetry acknowledges our individuality, our alone-ness, but also connects us to one another like a bridge over time, disparities, and distance.

Poetry gives a voice to the voiceless, a name to the nameless, and encourages us to stretch beyond our horizons to imagine a better world:

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

-From Caged Bird, Maya Angelou

If you're not sure where to start, will email a poem-a-day to your inbox each morning – all you have to do is sign up!

Have a favorite poem? Celebrate National Poetry Month with your fellow freelancers and share in the comments below!

A new soul and media geek, Laura writes about community, poetry and pop culture. Find her @Pennyscientist or on Freelancers Union.

Laura Murphy A new soul and media geek, Laura writes about community, poetry and pop culture.

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